Ag community concerned about ditch maintenance

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Farmers, excavators, contractors and others in the agricultural community have been working on and maintaining local ditches for generations.

But in recent months, state officials have been stepping in to enforce rules involving that work.

And that has many people in the local community confused and frustrated.

“We have been trying to handle things in a responsible manner for years. We try to do our best to maintain the waterway, prevent erosion and maintain the ditches with a common-sense approach,” Jasper farmer Daryl Schmitt said. “But it seems like field agents have become more involved with enforcement.”

The rules involve getting permits for various work in waterways. That includes ditches, which various people in agriculture have been maintaining for decades.

The state legislature developed rules in 1972 involving waterways for the Indiana Department of Natural of Resources and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

“We feel that the field agents are out now trying to randomly enforce their interpretation of a 47-year old statute, and threatening fines,” Schmitt said. “There is confusion about the permitting process, and concern in the ag community about the overzealous interpretation of what needs to be permitted. The ag community thinks they are too restrictive on what needs to be permitted.”

Hundreds of local people in the agricultural community expressed those concerns at a meeting in mid-February at the Jasper Arts Center. The meeting was going to be held at Vincennes University Jasper Campus’ CTIM building, but so many people showed up for the meeting that it had to be moved to the bigger facility at the last minute.

“As I listened to the discussion, it sounded frustrating. There are five agencies they may have to answer to,” said State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, who organized the meeting after getting calls from local people expressing their concerns.. “This is an example of us (legislators) up there passing rule after rule after rule, and the unintended consequences.

”These guys are going about their day, running their farms,” he said. They don’t know that they are even supposed to be asking these questions.”

Representatives with DNR, IDEM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service were at the meeting to discuss the matter and hear the people’s concerns.

“It was a good opportunity to show the regulators that there is a lot of concerns and issues that need to addressed,” Schmitt said.

IDEM, DNR and the Corps of Engineers have rules and permitting processes covering waterways. There are different permits for different projects, and it is up to the individual to research which project needs which permit. And some projects could need multiple permits.

“There is no quick answer that fits all circumstances,” IDEM spokesman Barry Sneed said. “It is best for those with the intent to excavate a ditch to contact the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to determine what type of permit they will need based on the type of work they would like to do.”

The community agrees that regulations need to be in place.

“In the case of an individual that is doing something that is not environmentally friendly, then there has to be a regulation on the books to be able to address that situation,” Schmitt said. “There also needs to be common-sense implementation of these guidances so that it is not overburdensome to the 99.9 percent of the ag community that is trying to do everything in a common-sense, environmental fashion.

“That is the happy medium. That is where we have to find the balance.”

The state agency representatives indicated that other meetings will likely occur to continue the discussion.

And that is what the agricultural community wants as well.

“My hope is that the regulatory agencies will work with the ag community to come up with a common-sense solution, to where we can all work together,” Schmitt said. “We are all environmentalists. We all want the same thing: to protect the environment.”




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